– – – –
Tony watched Clifton Yount from the observation room. The man was about 5’8, well-muscled, moderately attractive, with reddish blond hair and pale blue eyes. He projected an air of confidence Tony was certain was affected.
Arresting Yount had been anticlimactic. Base security had the whole contingent from Fletcher Utility under guard by the time Tony and the BAU finally cleared the gate. Tony had been the one to actually perform the arrest and bring him back to the Yard. Now, he was just waiting to watch the interrogation.
Gideon and Hotch were also present in the observation room, and Hotch turned to him. “You feel like you have a handle on this guy?”
“Yeah. Read his sheet of course, but this confident, calm thing he’s got going on,” Tony gestured to the window, “not hard to understand that he feels inadequate with women and rapes to prove he’s ‘a man.’ That he feels he’s entitled to take what he wants from these women.”
“Take the first interrogation,” Hotch said tipping his head toward the window.
Tony’s brows shot up, then he considered for a second. “I get it. I represent what he tries to persuade himself he is, but so do most of your team.”
Hotch just jerked his head toward the window again.
“Okay, then.” Tony left the observation room, passing Derek and Spencer who were on their way to join the senior agents. Derek gave him a nod then disappeared behind the door.
He entered interrogation room one and propped his shoulder against the wall, contemplating Yount, who met his gaze unflinchingly. Even though he knew that the confidence and ego were veneers, they were very good veneers. Yount had had a long time to perfect his persona; his veneer of confidence and manliness only cracked when he was around Navy women, a representation of a source of personal failure. Tony figured he’d need to do something drastic to break the man down.
“Ya know, most men in your position do just fine with women. They don’t let it get in their way or affect their confidence. They realize that being a man is about how he relates to his woman, how he treats her. He doesn’t let it run his life, and he sure doesn’t let it lead him around by the nose.”
Yount’s confidence clearly wasn’t shaken, but he was frowning in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Your tiny dick,” Tony replied smoothly, holding his fingers up about two inches apart. Tony knew he was exaggerating, he’d had to do the guy’s pat-down after all, but he wasn’t exaggerating by all that much.
Yount exploded out of his chair and came at him, but it was exactly what Tony had been expecting and hoping for. Tony had Yount in an arm lock, face-down over the table by the time Derek entered the room.
Tony gestured Derek back, needing to personally subdue Yount by himself, then wrestled the man into his chair, cuffing him to the table this time. Derek stayed in the room, leaning next to the window while Tony took his seat at the table.
“So, it really makes you that mad to have a little dick, eh, Clifton?” Tony said, emphasizing the name like there was something inherently wrong with it. “Seriously, real men accept it and move on.”
Yount jerked at his cuffs and nearly growled. “You have no idea who you’re talking to.”
“Pfft.” Tony made a dismissive noise. “You are nothing unique or interesting around here. I see little twerps like you every day. They all have a lot to say and not a lot to show.”
“But I showed them!”
“And did that make you feel like a real man, Clifton? Stalking Navy women in the dark, too afraid and,” he leaned forward a bit and let his eyes flick down to the man’s crotch, “insecure to actually talk to a woman?”
He jerked at the cuffs again. “I do fine with women!” he spat.
“Civilians, maybe,” Tony scoffed, “but Navy women are. Bad. Ass. What would they want with you?”
“But they do want me,” Yount said with a smile. “They all want me. In the end. I make sure of it.”
“Is that right? Patricia Abbott sure didn’t seem too impressed with you,” Tony said, referencing the most recent victim.
Yount scoffed. “She’s a liar! They’re all liars. She loved it by the end.”
“Lieutenant Ramey never loved it. She got you thrown out of the Navy,” Tony observed.
“That bitch!” Yount was red-faced. “She wanted it but wouldn’t admit it. They all want it.”
“Nah. Sorry, I’m not convinced. I think Navy women are just too much for a little guy like you,” Tony said condescendingly. “You just don’t make the grade. Not good enough for the Navy and certainly not good enough for its women.”
“They have to be shown! They all have to be shown. Women don’t belong in the military anyway; that’s a man’s place. The uppity cunts. It’s my right to show them where they belong!”
“You are a broken little record,” Tony retorted, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. “I don’t believe for a second you changed a Navy woman’s mind about you.”
“I changed all their minds!” Yount screamed. “All of them. Fifty-seven of those haughty Navy bitches. You’ve never satisfied fifty-seven women in your entire life!”
Tony felt a little queasy, but he didn’t let his mask slip. “Well, aren’t you the little engine that could—stalking, beating, and raping fifty-seven Sailors.”
Yount looked like he wanted to tear Tony apart. He leaned across the table as far as he could. “They loved it.”
Letting his expression shift to something unimpressed, Tony shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t see how.”
While Yount was trying to convince Tony, the file with all the known victims so far was slipped in and Tony got the man to talk about the victims based on their pictures. He’d brag, Tony would pretend to be skeptical, they’d move on to the next.
When Tony finally left interrogation, he felt numb and dirty. He paused in the hallway and rubbed the back of his neck, blowing out a breath.
“You did good,” Derek said from next to Tony. “Starting with the little dick thing was unexpected.”
“Yeah, well, I figured he’s had a long time to perfect his veneer of confidence. I needed to piss him off.”
“Mission accomplished, man.”
Hotchner stepped out into the hall. “That was unorthodox but effective.”
“I’ve done stranger things in interrogation,” Tony admitted.
Hotch quirked one eyebrow up but only said, “We still need to know how he found the women the last four years.”
“I didn’t feel like he was going to give me that. He wants me to see him as a big swinging dick, not as whatever sneaky behavior he engaged in to find and stalk the women. That was the part he was the cagiest about: the stalking.”
“I agree. We’re going to give him a few minutes to settle down, then Gideon and Reid will take over.”
Tony could stay and watch the rest of the interrogation but he had a lot of shit to do. He was going to ask Weppler to round up agents who had some time to work on the paperwork and procedures around opening cold cases, making them active, and filing them as solved. Because the volume of paperwork could easily overload his team. Plus, more importantly, they had a lot of victims to contact.
He went up to the room allocated to the BAU and found it empty so went down to his team bullpen only to find it crowded with Jareau, Garcia, Erin, Beth, Jacy, Jenny, Rick Balboa, and Mike Weppler.
He blinked at the crowd. “What’s going on?”
Erin replied, “Rick and I were already here, but I notified Agent Weppler, Jacy, Beth, and the director when you went to make an arrest. They all came in to watch the interrogation.”
Director Shepard added, “There’s only so much room in observation, so I authorized the security feed from interrogation one to be piped up here. Good work, Agent DiNozzo.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Tony tried not to think about having twelve people watching him do an interrogation. He was glad he hadn’t known.
“Because of the severity of the crimes committed, the number of jurisdictions involved, and the number of victims, JAG is sending someone to assist in preparing the cases for the prosecutor. Some, depending on the state, are going to be outside the statute of limitations.” She didn’t look pleased by that.
Tony nodded. Statute of limitations applied at the time the crime was committed. Some of these states had subsequently lengthened or removed the SOL, but it wouldn’t matter. It was going to be ugly.
Shepard continued, “There will also be a press liaison for NCIS to funnel all external inquires through—Agent Jareau has offered to advise our liaison, and we’ll be handling that today. Is there anything your team needs?”
“Honestly, once we find all fifty-seven cases that he admits to, just the handling of them will overwhelm my team,” Tony admitted.
Shepard looked to Agent Weppler, who said, “We’re going to get you some help with that. I’ll have an answer for you by Monday.”
Weppler and Balboa cleared out first. Jenny squeezed his upper arm and softly whispered, “Nice job, Tony,” on her way out.
Beth nodded to him but pulled Erin aside for a quiet conversation. Jacy came up next to him and chivvied him out of the room.
“Where exactly are we going?” he asked as she near pushed him toward the stairs.
“You’ll see,” she said. “One more thing we need to do before the paperwork storm from hell.”
He almost turned around when he saw where she was taking him. “Oh, god, not the mom-mobile, Jace.”
“Suck it up, DiNozzo. I don’t want to take the time to sign out a car. You’ll survive for an hour.”
Tony had to admit the Toyota Sienna was comfortable, but he’d rather be a little uncomfortable than ride in a minivan.
As soon as they were moving, Jacy said, “Don’t take this patronizingly, Tony, but damn, boy, you did good.”
“Um, there were a lot of people working this case, Jacy.”
She shot him a quick look. “I get it, okay, you’re not going to run around claiming you closed fifty-seven cases, but you were instrumental in making the connection and figuring out who it was. And you damn sure did a good job getting him to admit to it in record time. My private bet was that it would take you at least an hour to get him to admit to anything.” She paused a second then added, “The point is, I’ve known you since you rolled in from Baltimore with your slicked back hair and your leather jacket. You were always good, Tony, but I’m really proud of you.”
He actually felt his face warm a bit and was glad she was focused on driving. “Thanks, Jace.”
“Okay, I’ll let you off the hook. On this anyway. You haven’t been over to my house in longer than I can remember. Since we couldn’t take Beth to dinner last night because of the case, what do you say to a barbecue at my house next Sunday?”
Damn her. She knew part of his resolution with the new job was to get more comfortable with children and she was throwing hers at him. “Yeah, all right,” he finally agreed.
“Good, glad you can see sense.” They hadn’t been driving for long. Jacy had taken the bridge into Anacostia and was now turning onto a cul-de-sac in Fairlawn.
“You going to fill me in anytime soon?” Tony asked.
Jacy pulled to a stop in front of a well-maintained bungalow. “I called Patricia Abbott and told her we were coming by. Let’s go give her the news.”
A few minutes later, Tony was seated across the dining room table from Petty Officer Abbott. She was dressed in a too-large cardigan that she had pulled tight around her. Her eyes were heavily shadowed, and the bruises from her attack more than two weeks prior were still fading.
“What’s this about?” she asked. “I sent my mother to the store because she gets too upset and I can’t deal with it right now, but she’ll be back soon. The FBI said they’d been asked to come consult on the case. Did you find anything?”
“Patricia,” Jacy said gently from where she was seated next to Abbott, “Agent DiNozzo connected your case to some older cases and asked the FBI to come consult with us. A few hours ago, NCIS arrested the man who attacked and raped you. Agent DiNozzo has already obtained his confession.”
Abbott stared, her eyes flicking rapidly from Tony to Jacy. “Really?” she finally said so softly Tony could barely hear it.
“Yeah,” Jacy said. “We got him.”
“Oh god.” Her hand covered her mouth and she blinked rapidly. “You don’t know. I’m always terrified that he’s there… that’s he’s watching me… that he’ll come back. Oh my god.” She curled in on herself and started to cry.
Tony thought Beth or Erin should likely have accompanied Jacy, considering they’d been on the case from the beginning, but as painful as the moment was, he knew this was where he needed to be.
– – – –
Fully dressed, Tony dropped onto his bed and was immediately reminded of his shopping trip tomorrow with Garcia. He groaned and buried his face in his pillow. As the BAU were packing it in after a very long day, she’d asked him what his Sunday plans were, and he’d impulsively said he was shopping for a new bed. Next thing he knew, he had a shopping companion he was meeting at 1100 hours tomorrow.
The day had been intolerably long, and the amount of work this case would take to resolve made Tony’s head swim, but an unknown number of cases would get closed, and there’d be no more women in Clifton Yount’s path. He couldn’t ask for more than that.
The peculiar thing was Yount wasn’t that hard to catch. He’d left an obvious pattern, and he wanted to brag about his prowess. Gideon had gotten it out of him that at the first base where they’d done IT infrastructure upgrades four years ago, he’d left a hardwired tap on the line and was accessing personnel records through the servers at that very first base. Penelope had figured it out almost at the same time when she’d determined that all the women’s files in the last four years had been accessed from an IP address in Alabama.
They were still pulling cases, including more recent ones. Like most rapists of Yount’s type, he talked at his victims a lot. Since the signature was in a single sentence out of many, and one touch amidst a sea of violence, not every woman called out those two things or even remembered them. To be sure they caught all of the cases, the BAU was going to come up with a better signature and screening profile to look at all unsolved rape cases that even might be associated with Yount—what elements to look for where the victim’s statement didn’t include the signature.
One thing that Tony had immediately done was put in a call to JAG about was a case in Rhode Island from three years back. Yount has specifically called out the name of a particular victim in his confession, but there was a sailor serving time in Leavenworth after being convicted of the crime, though he’d always professed his innocence.
Trying to put the case out of his mind, Tony rolled off the bed and began to undress, for the first time letting himself think about Ian. He’d been pushing that development away from his conscious thoughts all day, needing to stay focused. He was pretty certain Ian wasn’t the sort for a casual relationship, particularly not with the risk being with another man represented. Although, Ian must have been more on his mind than he’d admitted if the first thing he’d thought to do on his day off was go get a new bed!
Climbing into the shower, he mentally wrestled with the idea of letting someone really into his life again. Ten minutes later, he was clean, but didn’t have any clarity
– – – –
His phone ringing jolted him out of sleep. “DiNozzo,” he snapped into the phone, recognizing an NCIS prefix.
“Agent DiNozzo, this is Rob Hickson in forensics.” This was the guy covering for Abby until she was off suspension tomorrow.
He sat up on the edge of the bed and rested his head in one hand, trying to shake off the sleep-fog. “What can I do for you?”
“There was a note to call as soon as we had your results, sir.”
“I wasn’t expecting those results until Monday, Mr. Hickson.” Tony wasn’t Gibbs, dammit. As much as part of him wanted immediate answers, the unsub wasn’t going anywhere, and he refused to burn out everyone over situations that were not urgent.
“Yes, sir. But I wanted to get these samples run soonest. The lab at Anacostia is also going to run them on Monday so we have validation. The sample you provided of one Clifton Yount had two matches in CODIS, both open NCIS cases. I sent the information to you in email.”
He wasn’t surprised. They had DNA in two cases and knew those two cases were a match to each other, though two years apart. The investigator on the second case hadn’t done much follow-up on the two rapes with very different MOs in two different states but with the same unsub. Not that Tony thought he’d have gotten very far, but the way the case was quickly passed off as cold spoke to indifference at best, and negligence at worst.
“Thank you, Hickson. I appreciate it.” A minute later, he closed his phone and didn’t put much thought into it as he dialed the investigator of that first case with DNA. The investigating agent had kept it open for over a year before marking it as a cold case.
“Tony. Everything okay?” Pride said warmly but with a note of concern. Tony could hear what he’d describe as kitchen sounds in the background.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. Sorry for calling so early. You remember Ensign Helen Jansen?”
“‘Course I do. You always remember the bad ones you can’t catch. Why? You got something for me?”
“Clifton Yount, forty-seven years old, works for a subcontractor for the DoD. We arrested him yesterday. DNA came back positive for Ensign Jansen’s case. Just wanted to let you know.”
He could hear Dwayne blowing out a breath, and there was a long silence. “I appreciate you lettin’ me know. I’ll go see her today. Try to give her some closure.”
They wound up talking for about half an hour, and it was easier to talk to Dwayne about this shitty case than anyone else. By the time they hung up, Tony felt ready to get on with the day.
– – – –
“Budget?” Penelope asked as she nearly bounced next to Tony as they entered the mattress store. They were only the second people in the place.
“Oh really?” she said with a smile.
He just nodded but didn’t elaborate. Tony had a big trust fund. He’d disclosed it quietly to NCIS but other than his suits, didn’t do anything to draw attention to it. His apartment was in a modest neighborhood and he drove a classic Mustang. The give away was the quality of his furniture, but most people couldn’t tell they were sitting on a five-thousand-dollar couch.
She made a beeline for one section of the store and he immediately noticed the prices going up. Stopping in front of one, she said, “Well?”
He stared at it for a few seconds, pressed on it with his hands, then shrugged. “Seems like a bed.”
Rolling her eyes, she gave him a shove, and he wound up sprawled on the bed. He immediately made a face as the fabric cover of the mattress tried to Velcro itself to his jeans and stick to his t-shirt, making it very hard to get comfortable on his back. Eventually he managed. “It’s too soft,” he said.
“You a back sleeper?” Penelope asked as she sat on the edge of the mattress and bounced a little.
“Sometimes. Usually side though,” he admitted.
“Well get on your side then,” she ordered.
With a huff, he battled the stuck-like-cling-film mattress cover and rolled to his side. “Too soft,” he said again.
“I think it’s like a cloud,” she said, running her hands over the mattress surface.
The salesman approached. “Good morning, folks. We have this model on special in king and California king. What size are you looking for?”
Tony got to his feet, feeling like he’d done battle with the bed. “I’m not sure, really.” The purpose of getting a bed was to get a bigger bed. But how big?
“Do you have space constraints?” Garcia asked.
“Cal-king might be too big,” he admitted.
“What size do you have now?” she prompted.
“Twin,” he replied neutrally.
Penelope hopped up and came around the bed, threading her arm through his and started leading him away. “Thank you for your help,” she called back to the salesman. “We’ll be back.”
“Where are we going?” he asked in bemusement.
She just huffed a little and walked faster. In about five minutes, they were seated at a coffee shop across the street and had their espresso drinks. “Okay, tell Aunt Penelope all about it.”
“Excuse me?” he said on a laugh.
“No, seriously, Tony. No one your age, as hot as you, as charming as you, has a twin size bed without there being a story behind it. Plus, you’re making a change. More story. So fess up. I promise this is between you and me, so help my custom GUI.”
“You know, I have no idea what you just swore to.”
“That which I value above all but Derek. Now come on. What’s up?” She nudged his leg with her foot, literally prodding him.
“I’ve known you for like a minute, but I feel weirdly close to you. It’s unnerving,” he said teasingly with his eyes narrowed.
“It’s the Penelope-effect. Patent pending. I know I’m a flirt and I kind of gave you the full Penelope right away, but it’s not just because you’re Derek’s friend, though that is a huge recommendation. Believe me, I know all about using behavior to keep people from seeing your vulnerabilities.”
He winced at little at that bit of insight.
“I know you have no real reason to trust me, and I really won’t pester you if you don’t want to say anything else, but this is between us and you can talk to me if you want.”
Taking a drink of his latte, he considered for a few seconds. He did feel oddly comfortable with Penelope, which was strange because Tony did not let people get close to him easily. Shrugging, he decided to go with his gut. It’s not like she could hurt him with information about his bed. “It was an impulsive decision. I was engaged when I started at NCIS. For whatever reason, she left me at the altar. Bed was hers, and when I went to buy a new one, I impulsively bought a twin.”
Penelope looked sad. “So you were heartbroken and were making it impossible to really invite anyone else into your life. Oh, Tony.”
“Eh. It was a long time ago.” He flicked at the lid of his coffee cup.
“Yeah, but you never changed it. You kept people out.”
“I was busy. Seemed like there was always a reason, and then it was a habit. A comfortable habit.”
“A safe habit,” she challenged, pointing a perfectly manicured orange nail at him.
“That, too,” he acknowledged with a smile.
“So what changed?”
He raised a brow.
“Oh, come on. Give a girl some credit. Who is she? As much as I’d love to think you were so overcome by my sheer awesomeness that you had to run out and buy a real bed, I find that highly unlikely.”
“Your awesomeness is epic, and if it weren’t for two factors, I’d ask you out in a heartbeat,” he said sincerely. She was brasher and brighter than the women he normally dated, but he probably needed a little of that. Actually, the women he normally dated were all emotional replicas of each other… no hassle.
She rested her chin on her hands and batted her eyes at him. “And what are these two things getting between me and transcendent romance?”
He snorted. “Well, Derek, for one, and the person kind of inspiring me to buy a bigger bed.”
She blinked. “Derek? You know he and I are just friends. Good friends, but friends.”
It was Tony’s turn to blink in surprise. “Okaaaay.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s not what I saw, Penelope, but if that’s what you say, I’ll take your word for it,” he said carefully.
She frowned and looked thoughtful. “From me or him?”
“Oh boy,” Tony whispered. “Both, really.”
Suddenly she held her hands out in front of her in a warding way. “Nope. Not going there. We’re friends. End of discussion.”
“As you wish,” he said with a wink.
She huffed. “And we have established you don’t mean that in the way my poor little heart would like. We’ll just have to settle for convivial bliss. Now tell me about the lady who has captured your heart.”
He hesitated, because he didn’t particularly want to outright lie. At least not to her. “Actually, we met about four and a half years ago at some advance training I was taking at FLETC. They weren’t really interested then, but, uh, I guess I’ve been carrying the torch anyway.”
Penelope leaned across the table and poked him in the chest. “You just played the pronoun game,” she whispered. “You don’t set off my gaydar, but I don’t care and I won’t say anything.”
“Bisexual,” he replied lowly, so no one could hear. “Ardently.”
She sighed happily and gave him a dreamy smile. “I do like an equal opportunity employer.”
He started laughing.
Nudging with her foot again, she relentlessly prompted, “Spill!”
“I’m not even sure of the story myself. He spent a lot of time with me when we met, but anytime I made my interest more overt, he seemed oblivious and moved away. And then kept coming back. Last time we were alone together, I tried to be unsubtle without outright saying it, and he was clueless. And that was it. Never saw him again. But, I admit, I thought about him frequently over the years.”
“He saw me at Quantico on Friday, and showed up at my apartment. Which, now that I say it, sounds bad, but it– eh, you had to be there.”
“Oh, precious, I would have loved to be there,” she said with a salacious grin.
“Penelope,” he said choking on laughter.
She laughed, then said, “So, he’s one of us? He’s FBI?”
“Yes. And, no, I won’t tell you who he is.”
“Yeah yeah. So he just changed his mind all the sudden?” She looked a bit suspicious.
“I don’t know if it was all of a sudden, but he said I’ve been on his mind. Said he knew how I felt back then but chose to play ignorant, even though he was interested, too.” He shook his head. “I dunno. It was more than a little confusing.”
“That’s it? Tell me you’re going to make him work for it, Tony. He’s got some making up to do!”
“Don’t fret, beautiful, he said he’ll explain if I’ll listen. I said I needed to get through my case first.”
“All right, then.” With a big smile, Penelope got to her feet. When he was up as well, she took his arm and headed back across the street. “First step, bed! King size, I think. And you’ll need bedding, too! But he better have a damn good explanation, and then you make him work for first dibs on that bed!”
– – – –
Tony stepped out of the bathroom while drying his hair and contemplated the new bed. Same day delivery apparently wasn’t all that hard to arrange if you had Penelope with you innocently pointing out that you could spend the $7200 elsewhere.
The bedroom certainly seemed smaller, but it all left him feeling oddly unsettled. With all the people he’d dated in the last four years, he’d never felt the need to address the bed issue. He wasn’t even certain he was going to date Ian, and yet he’d gone out and bought a bed. Why was he ready to suddenly invite someone into his life?
He knew he had good instincts. Things went wrong when he pushed those instincts down; something he’d been doing more than he should have on Team Gibbs. And maybe it wasn’t all about Ian. Jenny pushing him to say what he wanted for his career had made him want to figure out what he wanted for his life. He’d had a week feeling like he was on the right track for his career, and while that wasn’t much time, he already knew he was ready for more in his personal life, too.
With that thought in mind, he tossed the towel toward the bathroom and sat cross-legged on his new bed. Scrolling to the number he’d programmed in the first night, he hit send.
“You already close your case?” Ian’s voice was husky over the line.
“SecNav’s press conference?” Ian asked.
“Yeah.” Secretary Davenport had given a brief press conference this morning about the “capture of a prolific serial rapist targeting the brave women of the Navy for more than a decade.” It was really closer to two decades, but Tony doubted they wanted to stress how long it had taken them to catch this guy.
“Damn, Tony. You okay?”
How often had someone ever asked Tony if he was okay at the end of a difficult case? “I was only working the case for about four days. It’s… fine,” he hedged.
“Some cases can be four days or four months—they affect you the same. If you want to talk, I’ll listen.”
“I don’t.” He wouldn’t choose to talk to Ian about case angst right now.
“Fair enough. You think about my offer?”
“Both of them, and honestly, dinner sounds good, but I’m more interested in the explanation,” Tony said bluntly.
“You up to a visitor?”
There was an affirmative grunt.
Tony mentally flailed for a second then shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen.” The line went dead.
Guess he was going to have to put clothes on.
– – – –
Tony opened the door and stood back for Ian, who was looking entirely too good in Tony’s opinion. They were dressed almost the same—faded old jeans and a t-shirt, except Tony’s shirt was white, and Ian’s was dark blue.
Ian gave him an obvious once over, a look of appreciation in his eyes. The man definitely wasn’t subtle when he didn’t want to be.
He gestured toward the kitchen. “You want something to drink?”
They eventually wound up on the couch, and Tony pulled one leg up underneath him and turned sideways so he could face Ian. “The floor, as they say, is yours,” he said leadingly.
“It was about six things that added up to ‘not now’ in my head. The right thing to do would have been to treat you like everyone else, but you drove me crazy. I wanted to be around you, and it was selfish. I actually don’t usually care about being selfish, except that it might have hurt you.”
Tony mentally set aside the leading him on part of the equation and focused on the first bit. “What were the six things?”
“Your age, I wasn’t sure if you were sincere, my position and assignment, that you were still tore up about someone else, getting involved with a man again in general, and finally some… personal concerns,” he ended evasively.
“Might as well take ‘em one by one,” Tony began. “I’m still eight years younger than you.”
“I know. Doesn’t seem to matter now. Not sure if I was gaslighting myself with that one or not.”
Tony rested his elbow on the back of the couch and rested his head against his hand. “My sincerity? That one seems weird to me because I was taking a lot of risk.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t the first. With my reputation, there’s one or two in every class at the FBI Academy—male and female. Not so many at FLETC though.”
Brows climbing toward his hairline, Tony asked, “You thought I was a sniper groupie?”
“At first, I didn’t know why, and I wondered what your motivation was. I’ve learned to be leery of passes from students.” It helped that Ian was just answering the questions and staying relaxed. If he’d been getting defensive, this would have been a disaster.
“Fair enough. Your position and assignment?”
“I was your instructor. I shouldn’t have been even contemplating a fraction of the things that went through my mind.” That sounded promising to Tony who fought a physical reaction. “Also, I knew I was about to do a tour in Afghanistan, and it was the wrong time to start something up.”
Tony wondered how he’d have felt being a one-night or a one-week stand before Ian shipped out. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t have liked it. Of everything Ian had brought up, that had the most merit to him so far. “My, uh, issues with someone else?”
“It pretty much was on you like a cloud except when we were alone on the range. I heard a rumor you were left by your fiancée a few months prior.”
Tony just inclined his head, not wanting to get into the subject of Wendy.
“Seemed a lot of risk to take to be a rebound,” Ian said bluntly.
“Okay. I can understand that. I’m pretty sure I get the gay relationship thing in general, but go ahead.”
Ian snorted and mirrored Tony’s position, resting his head on his hand. “It’s complicated in our work. I’d tried it before and it was a lot of effort to keep it below the radar and work it out with our jobs. I don’t worry about myself. People don’t mess with me. But you being in law enforcement as well? It was a concern.”
“You never have one night stands with men?” Tony asked a bit incredulously.
“Of course I do. But not men in law enforcement or the military. I thought about taking you to bed and getting it out of my system…” he trailed off and went silent.
“And why didn’t you?” Not that Tony would have been pleased to be gotten out of Ian’s system.
“Because I think I knew even then that if I had you once, I wouldn’t want to let you go.”
Suddenly feeling awkward, Tony cleared his throat and glanced away for a second. “Well, damn. You’re not exactly lobbing softballs are you?”
Ian made a derisive sound. “What’s the point of not being direct?”
“All right. So what’re these ‘personal concerns’ that got in the way?” Tony asked of the last item on Ian’s list.
“It’s something that can get in the way of longer term attachments. I don’t bring it up unless I’m serious about someone.” Mr. Blunt actually hesitated over telling Tony what that was.
“Well?” Tony prompted.
“I don’t care for anal sex,” Ian said baldly.
Tony coughed a little, clearing his airway, masking his disappointment. Well, fuck. “That’s… well, hell. If people feel they have a fundamental sexual incompatibility, I can see why they might–”
“Is it a deal breaker for you?” Ian interjected, watching Tony intently.
“I don’t know.” He paused, unable to believe he was having this conversation. “Considering my preferences, it’s hard to imagine a life of blowjobs and handjobs. I’m trying to be open minded here,” he finally said.
“You don’t like it either, then,” Ian stated.
Tony frowned. “Wait. What are we talking about? Don’t like what?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. What is it that you don’t like exactly?”
“I just said,” Ian said quite tersely. “Being penetrated. I’ve tried it, repeatedly, and find prostate stimulation exceedingly uncomfortable.”
That seemed kind of sad. Tony’s prostate was like his favorite thing. “But you’re okay with doing the fucking?” Tony asked, going for his turn at blunt.
“Yes, but if you don’t-”
Tony started laughing and waved his hands, interrupting the flow of words. “We are so fine. I adore being fucked.”
Ian’s expression shifted to something predatory. “Is that right?”
“And it wouldn’t bother you that I wouldn’t reciprocate?” he clarified.
“No. I like fucking as much as anyone, but the idea of putting my dick somewhere it’s not wanted is an erection killer.”
Ian’s gaze flicked to Tony’s lap and he felt the mood suddenly change “We can’t have that.” He slid closer on the couch. “Is that what you used to think about? Me fucking you?”
“Constantly,” Tony breathed. “Especially when we were on the range.”
Super fast, Ian’s hand shot out and wrapped around the ankle of the foot Tony had resting on the couch. He guided Tony’s leg along the back of the sofa as he bore him back into the cushions, winding up braced on his arms above Tony.
Tony stared up at Ian, breathing heavily. “I don’t care if I’m the only one being fucked… that doesn’t matter to me. As long as you don’t think it has any meaning outside of the fucking itself.”
“Just means I’m a lucky guy.” Ian settled his weight on Tony’s body, their dicks pressing against each other through their jeans.
“Damn right,” Tony said on a gasp. “And don’t think we’re done talking. You told me your good and not-so-good reasons for not wanting to get involved.” He couldn’t help but press up against the delicious pressure. “I get it. But you still need to explain why you led me on despite your good reasons.”
“Because I’m a selfish prick,” he admitting as he ground his hips down in a circular rhythm. “Because you’re bright and beautiful and I wanted you for myself. So I took what I could, even if it wasn’t fair.”
“Jesus,” Tony hissed, wrapping one leg around Ian’s hips, thrusting up. His cock was so fucking hard. “And what about all your good reasons now?”
Ian lowered his head and nudged Tony’s chin up. “I don’t care about our age difference.” He pressed a kiss to Tony’s collarbone. “I don’t doubt either of our sincerity.” The lips moved up to his throat. “I have no authority over you, and I’m done with the military.” Tony shuddered as talented lips teased his jaw. “I know you’re over her.” Teeth nipped his earlobe. “Obviously I’m willing to take the chance on being with a man in law enforcement.” He shifted so his mouth was right above Tony’s, lips a fraction of an inch apart. “And we won the anal sex compatibility lottery.”
Tony shuddered, then Ian’s lips settled over his in an intense press. He opened his mouth, accepting the hot slide of Ian’s tongue and pushed back with his own.
The kissing and rutting was frantic and years overdue. Somehow shirts wound up thrown off, and then Ian was ripping open the buttons on their jeans and getting both their cocks in hand.
“Fuck!” Tony grunted, grappling at Ian’s back as he thrust his hips up. Ian claimed his mouth again, tongue fucking him as he skillfully manipulated their cocks. The tension built rapidly in his spine, and Tony clamped his legs around Ian’s hips, groaning into the other man’s mouth as he came apart.
Moments later, Tony panted as Ian pressed his face pressed into Tony’s throat. He tried to get his bearings. God, that was hot.
After a minute or two, Ian pushed himself back up on his arms then pressed a lingering kiss to Tony’s mouth. In the next instant, he rolled off the couch and vanished into the kitchen. He returned a few seconds later, his jeans closed up, and damp towel in hand.
Tony tried to take the towel, but Ian batted his hands away and wiped their mingled cum off Tony’s cock and belly. As the towel was tossed toward the bedroom, Tony wiggled around a bit to button his jeans then swung to a seated position.
T-shirt in hand, Ian settled next to him then pulled him close. “I want to stay,” he whispered against Tony’s ear. “But we both know I’ll wind up fucking you if I do. You ready for that?”
Sliding his hand over Ian’s abdomen and ribs, Tony murmured, “Not a girl here, Ian. Men compartmentalize sex really well.”
“Do they?” he asked gently.
Tony pulled back enough that he could look Ian in the eye. “Meaning?”
Ian’s hand rested on Tony’s neck, thumb tracing along his jawline. “Meaning I’m already in too deep here. I always suspected how it would be with you. It’s actually more. Before we do anything else, I want to know we’re both in this. I told you I’m selfish… I want to know you’re mine when I finally fuck you.”
Eyes wide, Tony stared. Ian was ready to commit—to Tony—after what amounted to rubbing off on each other on the couch, following an awkward conversation?
Not feeling like censoring himself, he just said, “I’m almost there, but in my head… it’s just…” And didn’t that seem backward? But Tony knew he needed some time to wrap his head around this. Emotionally, he was on board, but a lot had changed in a short period of time, and it felt like he should take a few minutes to at least think about it.
Ian’s hand shifted to the back of Tony’s neck and pulled him into a kiss. “I’ll wait. I can be very patient.”
– – – –
Jenny sipped her tea and reviewed her schedule for the day; it promised to be hellacious, but she would manage. There were several things she found very frustrating at the moment. Weppler being added to the management chain would no doubt be good, but it was aggravating in the short term. SecNav had become very involved in the Clifton Yount case, sidelining her to a large degree, but she kept reminding herself that she’d managed to keep her job. Now she needed to prove to SecNav that he’d made the right decision.
Last night, she’d called to talk to Dwayne Pride about the latest changes and get his advice. She’d had to be cagey about the Ziva situation, but she knew he’d inferred what she wasn’t saying. It probably wasn’t fair but, in a way, she’d turned him into her confessor. He was the only person who knew basically everything, and she trusted him, despite the fact that Ziva had given her cause to question her own judgment. Dwayne had encouraged her to keep trying to set things to rights.
In that vein, she expected Ms. Sciuto any minute to discuss the end of her suspension and changes to lab policy. The audit of the lab procedures had not gone particularly well, and Jenny had to look back through records to find out when things had gotten so out of compliance. She’d had Mr. Hickson fix the lab last week while Sciuto was out and expected an angry goth any moment.
She was almost finished with the lovely oolong tea she’d had imported when Cynthia rang to let her know Ms. Sciuto had arrived. “Send her in, Cynthia.”
The forensic scientist was in high dudgeon, no doubt about it. Her arms were crossed and her lips were pursed tight. “What did that little troll do to my lab?” she ended on a near scream.
“Ms. Sciuto!” Jenny snapped. “That will be enough. Unless you want to find yourself on suspension again, you will address me respectfully. Now, you can be seated and have a conversation or stand there and I will tell you what’s what before you get back to work.”
She seemed to war with herself for several seconds before flopping into the chair. “Why did they rearrange everything? My babies were moved! They’re sensitive!”
“Enough! The better question is why did you rearrange your lab to begin with? I checked the original configuration of the forensics lab, and it was to LAB specifications. Why did you change it?”
“It was more efficient,” she replied defensively.
“That’s arguable, but, frankly, any argument you might have carries no weight in this situation. I had everything put back like it’s supposed to be. People without forensics accreditation are not supposed to have access to the evidence processing area unless they’re escorted. Even with accreditation, they need to have the right profile and be authorized in the NCIS security system. Yet you moved most of the evidence processing to the computer forensics part of the lab and work with your door unlocked.”
“No one is going to do anything,” she said hotly.
“Ms. Sciuto, you’re not stupid. We don’t take things on faith. All physical evidence belongs in the second part of the lab behind the security doors. All access granted past that point to anyone without lab accreditation has been revoked. Your desk was moved back out to the main area where the mass spectrometer used to be. You may review results and do your paperwork in this area as well as receive evidence, but all handling of evidence will happen behind the security door. Am I clear on this?”
“Am I clear?!” Jenny thundered.
Sciuto jumped. “Yes! I understand.”
“Now, let’s talk about the results of the audit. There were some problems noted by the auditor and they will be addressed. A final memo about lab procedures and dress code will be released today. The first thing he noted was that when you were using several chemicals,” Jenny consulted the list, not really knowing what most of the chemicals were, “you wore safety gear, but left your lab coat open and were in a miniskirt. This left your thighs and lower legs vulnerable to injury.”
She huffed angrily. “I’ve never spilled anything in my lab.”
“Safety procedures exist to prevent things from happening, Ms. Sciuto. No more miniskirts. Most labs require pants, but I’ll make an exception for now, but skirts to your knees going forward. And wear your protective gear properly when you’re working with chemical agents. That’s non-negotiable.”
Jenny ignored that Sciuto looked crushed over the miniskirts, and she continued on. “The auditor noted that your collar was not really against LAB guidelines, but I find it unprofessional, so it stays off. I’m giving you some latitude, be grateful. But the shoes have to go. What were you thinking wearing four-inch heels on a two-inch platform on Friday? You nearly gave the auditor a stroke.”
When Sciuto started to open her mouth, Jenny sharply interjected, “Maximum heel height is two inches off the floor, and I shouldn’t have to tell you that they need to be closed-toe! Music will be in the evidence lab only and kept to a reasonable volume. I will not have people greeted to blaring music every time they come down to review results. Now, Cynthia will have the entire list of changes on your way out, but I want to emphasize that you need to obtain my permission to move equipment. You’ll be written up for processing evidence in the outer computer lab slash office should it happen again. If you don’t have that glass security door shut, you keep that evidence locked up.”
“But it’s not efficient!” she insisted. “Having to move between the rooms when I want to use the computer or handle evidence is a time waster. That’s why I moved the desk into the middle room and the evidence table behind the computers.”
“And with your music blaring away, what stops someone from walking away with evidence, planting evidence, or tampering with evidence?”
“People wouldn’t do that!”
“If I can’t trust you to do it the proper way, you can find other employment. I won’t have our reputation damaged. Am I understood?”
“Yes,” Sciuto replied somewhat sullenly.
“Then there is one more issue. Did you hear from Officer David over the weekend?” Jenny wasn’t sure if Ziva would reach out to anyone on the team personally after she landed in Tel Aviv.
“No,” she replied with a frown. “Why?”
“There were issues with Officer David’s security clearance that made it such that she could no longer work for NCIS. She was forced to return to Israel.”
“What? How? Why?” Sciuto’s eyes teared up. “Why wouldn’t she say goodbye to me?”
“I doubt it was a slight, Ms. Sciuto. She had very little time before she was escorted to the airport. She may call you at some point, but I ask that you take anything she might say with a grain of salt. She was not pleased that NCIS was unable to retain her any longer.”
“This is crazy! How could you let this happen?” Sciuto demanded.
“Ms. Sciuto, I am trying to remind myself that you are an asset to NCIS, but your willful blindness and childish tantrums are about to outweigh your usefulness. NCIS is a federal agency, not a social club. We follow procedures here, and the security procedures say Officer David is not eligible to work as a liaison for NCIS any longer. I suggest you remove yourself from my office. My patience is at an end.”
– – – –
It was only an hour into Tony’s day and he was in paperwork and telephone hell. Plus, he had new cases to deal with and people stopping by to talk about the Yount case who had nothing to do with it. Beth was staying a couple extra days to help with paperwork, so that was a relief. It didn’t help with the general chaos that way too much of Tony’s brain was on last night with Ian.
The entire time he’d been walking Ian out, he’d been thinking about changing his mind and having Ian stay, but he knew he was doing the right thing for himself. Ian was leaving on assignment for about a week starting on Tuesday but would call when he got back. Tony needed that time to get some clarity about what he really wanted.
Giving a frustrated huff, he dragged his fingers through his hair, reflexively answering when his phone rang. “DiNozzo.”
“What’s with the flowers, man?” Derek asked, sounding half frustrated and half teasing.
“Penelope deserves flowers,” he replied evasively.
There was a long silence. “Are you interested in Garcia?” Derek asked woodenly.
“Oh my god, you two need to get it together. For two people who are so insightful, you are both painfully clueless,” Tony retorted as he got up from his desk and headed for the hall, keenly aware his team were paying attention.
“What does that mean?” Derek sounded a bit indignant.
Tony closed the door behind him and wandered down the hall, making sure no one was around. “Jesus, Derek, just admit you love the woman and ask her out on a date.”
“We’re friends,” he replied defensively.
“Right. Well, then, why do you care if I send her flowers?”
Another long silence, then, “Why did you send her flowers?”
“Because she’s my friend and I’ll send her flowers if I want.”
Derek huffed. “You’re really not going to tell me?”
“I’m really not. And why does someone need a reason to appreciate her?”
“Hey, you’ve known her like a minute, man. We’re bros, but you don’t get to tell me about Garcia.”
“Derek, as your friend, my advice is to extract your head from your ass.”
“Toooonyyyyy,” Abby’s voice came from some ways behind him, causing him to whip around. She was running at him full tilt.
“Oh Jesus fucking Christ, I have to go.” He flipped his phone shut just in time for Abby to collide with him, crying up a storm.
“Tony,” she hiccupped, “they sent Ziva back to Israel.”
“I know,” he replied, focused on getting her arms out from around his neck.
“You know?” she repeated, jerking away from him. “What do you mean you know?”
“I mean that I was informed because the director had some questions for me.”
Her mouth hung open, then she hauled off and socked him in the arm. He managed to turn out of most of the punch but that was leaving a bruise. “What the hell, DiNozzo? Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because I know the meaning of the word classified. It was above your pay grade at the time,” Tony snapped.
“Ms. Sciuto,” Beth said lowly and dangerously from her position behind Abby.
Abby spun around, wiping the tears off her cheeks. “Beth. Hi.” She sniffled. “Can you believe they deported Ziva?”
“I really couldn’t care less,” Beth said with no inflection. “But if I ever see you assault another person, I’ll put you in handcuffs while I file a formal complaint.”
“You don’t– I mean– It’s just Tony.”
Tony inwardly winced but suppressed any outward reaction.
Beth glared. “That sounds like the kind of crap justifications I hear in my job every day.”
Abby’s mouth dropped open again. “Are you comparing me to–”
“I suggest,” Beth interjected, “that you return to your duty station immediately. Or I might forget that this is just a warning.”
Abby shot a glare at Tony and stomped off.
Once she was gone, Beth softly said, “Don’t ever let anyone hit you, Tony. Man, woman… just no.”
He took that in for a second and really got where she was coming from. He nodded. The last week had given him a new perspective about some things.
“Okay. Good. Now come on. JAG is on hold. They’re arranging the release of the sailor convicted of one of Yount’s crimes. They want to talk to you.”
– – – –
Mike jogged down the stairs to the basement. He had a suspicion his MIA agent was in the forensics lab. Their first day on rotation had been busy as he’d caught a double homicide before they’d even set their bags down. After spending hours at the crime scene, he’d sent McGee down to leave some evidence. The man had been gone longer than expected. Normally, Mike didn’t keep his agents on a super short leash, but he had a suspicion that he had a limited window to sort out McGee’s issues and turn him into a decent agent.
Hesitating outside the door to forensics, he listened to the conversation within.
“Of course I understand and I care, but I can’t do it, Abby!” McGee said.
“No! Look how much trouble you got in just getting into Tony’s personnel record. Things are different now. The director doesn’t seem like she’s going to put up with anything, and I promise you that Agent Weppler won’t.”
“McGee! We have to find out what happened to Ziva. You know they’re not telling us the truth.”
“No! I’m not risking my job over this. I’m just as sad as you are that I didn’t get to say goodbye, but I’m not hacking NCIS!”
“Shhh. Lower your voice. It’s not exactly hacking.”
“It is exactly that. The information was classified way above my clearance level.”
There was a scoffing noise. “Tony knows, so how classified can it be?”
“Uh, Abby, Tony’s clearance is higher than mine. He’s a Senior Supervisory Agent.”
“Well you’re an SFA!”
“Not anymore I’m not. I was demoted,” McGee said so softly Mike could barely hear it. “That’s what I was going to tell you before you started in about Ziva.”
“What? Why were you demoted? You earned that job!”
“I guess I don’t have the requisite experience for the role yet.”
“Oh, that Agent Weppler! He probably had something to do with Ziva, too. And we need to find out what!”
“NO! I’m not helping you hack.”
Mike stepped into the lab. “That gives me hope for you, Agent McGee.”
McGee whipped around. “Sir! I uh…”
“Why don’t you return to your desk and get started on those backgrounds.” When McGee hesitated, looking to Sciuto, who was paler than normal, he snapped, “Now!”
Once they were alone, Mike leaned against the doorjamb. “Ms. Sciuto, this is your only warning—and the only reason you’re getting a warning is because there was no actual action taken in regards to your plan. If you ever attempt to solicit an agent into an illegal act again, you will be fired. And certainly if you yourself were to attempt to access records above your clearance level, or for which you do not otherwise have access, you will be fired. Without discussion and without recourse. Am I clear?”
She was pale, but she snapped out, “I don’t work for you.”
“You need to catch up on your email, I think. I am the Special Agent in Charge of this office, effective today, and forensics falls under my purview. The director is continuing to handle most administrative matters for the time being, but you do work for me. I’m quite serious about this being your only warning.”
He stepped closer to her. “One thing that had been impressed upon me was that the quality of your work and your professional ethics were top notch.”
“Then stop fomenting illegal acts and do your job! There are two dead Marines who need your time and attention. If you can’t focus on them, go home, and I’ll get someone who can.”
– – – –
The door to his bullpen opening pulled Tony out of his paperwork. He’d sent his team home two hours ago and he had been hoping there’d be no more drop-ins today. It had been a shitty day and he needed some time to focus in silence in order to get his work done.
When he saw who it was, he leaned back in his chair and tossed his pen on the desk. “McGee,” he acknowledged.
“Tony,” the other man said, hands in his pockets, looking around the bullpen for a moment. “Abby said you knew Ziva was being sent back to Israel.”
“I found out right before they sent her back, yes.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Tony muttered under his breath. “Listen, McGee, I was told not to say anything to anyone by the director of this agency. Is that a clear enough reason for you?”
He glanced away. “We should have been allowed to say goodbye. She was our teammate.”
“We don’t always get a say.” He cocked his head. “Is this what you really came to talk to me about?”
“They demoted me. Brought in Cassie Yates as SFA,” McGee said, finally meeting Tony’s eyes.
“You really shouldn’t have even been promoted, McGee. You were almost a year shy of the minimum field experience. Also, Cassie’s a good agent. You can learn a lot from her.”
“You’d been on the job less than a year and Gibbs promoted you!”
“Wow.” Tony rocked forward in his chair and braced his elbows on his desk. “You are really determined to ignore the more than six years I spent as a cop. I get it—you don’t respect cops. But NCIS at least has some regard for them. My time on the force, as you damn well know, counts as field experience.” He sighed. “What do you want, McGee?”
“You left. And everything’s different now.”
“Well, I couldn’t stay. You guys weren’t doing your jobs, and you weren’t gonna do ‘em. Not for me anyway. I’m not saying I was perfect, because I screwed up, too. But I did what I thought was best.”
“For who?” McGee snapped.
“Uh, how about for me? But beyond that, for the victims of the crimes we investigate! I tried to do right by you, McGee, but you refused to learn or listen. So why don’t you suck it up and take a little responsibility for the situation you find yourself in. Now get out of my office.”
– – – –
After four days of paperwork and cases, Tony thought he was going to lose his mind. The week so far had been entirely too heavy with domestic violence calls. Most of the women and one man refused to admit it. It made for a lot of frustration for all of them.
He glanced at the clock. It was almost 1600 hours. “Go home early, guys,” he said to his team. Jacy and the TAD were just back from another DV call. When Jacy and Erin started to protest, he held up a hand. “Everyone has been pulling it out this week with all the extra paperwork and the demands from JAG. Just knock off a little early today.”
“Only if that includes you, too, Tony,” Jacy said with her arms crossed.
“I have dinner plans tonight, so I didn’t plan on staying late. I need to run some info up to Weppler and then I’ll pack it in. Now you guys get out of here while you can.”
Ten minutes later, he knocked on the door to Weppler’s office but didn’t find him in. It was a longshot anyway. As the new Special Agent in Charge for the DC office, Weppler had been assigned an office where he kept everything related to that job, but he spent most of his time in the MCRT bullpen as acting team lead. Tony had been kind of hoping to avoid the MCRT, but he needed to drop these reports off. Turning on his heel, he headed for the bullpen.
Weppler looked up as soon as Tony walked in and accepted the stack of paperwork. He flipped through it quickly. “Thank you, Agent DiNozzo. I have a call with JAG in the morning and this will help tremendously.”
“Sir.” He turned to the rest of the bullpen, gave a nod to McGee, and greeted Cassie who was rounding her desk.
“Tony!” she enthused. “It’s good to see you. I’ve dropped by your bullpen a couple times but keep missing you.” She gave him a quick hug.
“Hey, Cass. How are you settling in?”
“It’s going good. First week has been crazy, but it’s a good challenge. And I love that linked spreadsheet you created for the summary reports. That is going to save me so much time at month end. Do you mind if I share it?”
“Knock yourself out.” He glanced at Michelle, who was hovering nearby. “Michelle. How are you?”
Unexpectedly, she darted in for a quick, awkward hug. “Hi, Tony. I’m good. It’s not easy here, but it’s better. You got someone to replace me, right?” she asked anxiously.
“He starts Monday. I have a TAD agent right now, but it’s working out fine. I’m glad you’re happy. Stop by anytime. Seriously.”
He extricated himself from the conversations as quickly as he could and headed back to the stairs, almost running into Jimmy who was hovering near the door. “Jimmy? What are you doing lurking around in stairwells?” He noticed his friend’s expression was pinched. “You okay?”
“Yeah… yeah, I’m fine,” he said unconvincingly.
“Right. You going somewhere?”
“Delivering a report to Agent Weppler.”
Tony had a hunch he knew what the issue was. “I’ll wait here. Go drop it off and answer his questions.”
As soon as Jimmy was around the corner, Tony stepped into the stairwell and called Ducky. He figured the man would forgive him for begging off dinner, especially considering the reason.
When Jimmy was back and they started walking down the stairs, Tony said, “I talked to Ducky. He said you can call it quits for the day. So grab your stuff and meet me by my car. We’re gonna go have a beer and then get dinner.”
“Tony, you don’t have to–”
“Oh, stop it. We’ve done this before. Grab your stuff and meet me outside in ten.”
Thirty minutes later, they were in a corner booth and had beer and snacks. “All right, tell me what’s going on.” When Jimmy was quiet, Tony said, “I can guess if that helps.”
“Working with McGee?” he hazarded.
“Yes!” Jimmy exploded as he thumped his hand on the table. “NCIS gave me a copy to take to my attorney. He wrote that character exactly like me and then turned him into a… pervert,” he ended on a hissed whisper. “Then he has the nerve to claim, to my face, that it was just fiction. Actually, it’s fanfiction. Creepy real-person fanfiction where he made me a deviant. And now I have to smile and be polite and pretend like he didn’t do that.”
“Okay, first of all, you don’t have to smile. All you have to do is be professional; I can’t believe anyone would ask more of you than that. You don’t even have to be truly polite. Do your job, and be civil if he speaks to you, but you’re not obligated to ask him about his day or wish him well or even say ‘good morning.’”
Jimmy seemed to be taking in the distinction and relaxed a little.
“I know it’s ingrained in you to be polite, but give yourself permission to just do your job and be civil if he speaks to you. I know you watch Fawlty Towers; channel your inner John Cleese.”
“You mean pretend to be civil to someone I secretly can’t stand?”
“How far off of the truth is that?”
Jimmy took a swig of his beer. “Not too far, I guess.” He twirled his beer bottle on the table. “And what about Abby?”
Tony frowned. “What about her?”
“She said I should quit tormenting McGee and get over it. She’s been really pushy about it.”
“Okay, first, it’s none of her damn business. Second, it’s you, me, and Ducky who agreed to press the threat of lawsuit, and he and I aren’t backing down.” Tony took a breath, steadying his temper. “Are you having the same issue working with her?”
“Yeah. I actually see her more than McGee, and she’s all disapproving every time I see her.”
“Jesus. Okay, you need to tell Ducky.”
“No, seriously. She’s being… well, I won’t say what I’m really thinking right now, but she’s crossing the line. This situation doesn’t involve her, and she has no right to try to force her opinion on you or make your work life uncomfortable. Weppler has McGee on a short leash, and McGee wouldn’t dare mention the book to you. Let Ducky handle Abby; just turn over the problem and let him sort it out. This isn’t a case of two people not getting along. She’s almost bullying you over a legal matter that is none of her business.”
“But she was in the book, too.”
“And by choosing not to do anything about it, she’s bowed out of the conversation. Besides, she’s not the one who was a target for blatant character assassination. She needs to leave you alone.”
Jimmy dropped his head onto his folded arms. His voice came out muffled when he said, “I dread going to work these days.”
“Then we’ll fix it,” Tony said confidently. “But first, we’re gonna have wings and play pool, then later, I’m taking you to dinner.”
– – – –
The minute he walked in the door, a little body collided with Tony’s legs. He peered down at Jacy’s youngest, five-year-old Malik, who was missing a front tooth since the last time Tony had seen him. “Hello, Malik.”
“Hi, Tony,” he said with a big grin. Kids normally hated Tony, but Malik had been an exception the two times Tony had met him while he was still on Gibbs’ team. He hadn’t been sure if that would continue to hold true.
“Malik, let Tony inside,” Nathan Jarrett said, ushering them away from the door.
Tony walked but Malik clung, giggling.
“Here, let me take that,” Nathan said.
“The kid or the lasagna?” Tony replied.
Nathan snorted. “You’re on your own with Malik.” He took the bag from Tony and started walking away.
“Needs to go in the oven for an hour!” Tony called out. Nathan waved as he disappeared into the kitchen.
Tony peered down at Malik. “All right, where is everyone?”
Malik held his hands in the air, clearly wanting to be picked up.
“Oh, very well,” he said with a faked put-upon sigh. With awkwardness born of inexperience, he picked up the kid. “Now where is everyone?”
“Outside,” he replied with a heavy lisp brought about by that missing tooth.
“Well, that makes sense. It is a barbecue after all. Let’s go join them.” After a very chaotic week, his second as the FSVU team lead, the time to say goodbye to Beth Matthews had come. So everyone had converged on Jacy’s backyard for the farewell event.
The caseload had been steady all week, which was on top of the added paperwork of closing a major case. Mike Weppler had asked the Cold Case Unit to step in and help with a lot of it, so Tony didn’t feel like he was entirely drowning. Still, it would take weeks or maybe months to wrap the NCIS portion of the Yount cases.
When he stepped out onto the back patio, he realized he was one of the last to arrive. Even Ducky and Jenny were here to say goodbye to Beth. He went around and greeted everyone with Malik attached to him like a barnacle. He kind of hoped the kid would get bored soon.
As soon as he had a private-but-for-Malik moment with Ducky, he offered, “I’m sorry about the last minute change on Thursday.”
“It is no trouble at all, dear boy. I daresay Mr. Palmer was in need of that time with you. I bear no ill will and readily gave up my time with you for such a good cause. He was in much better spirits on Friday. You worked wonders.”
“Jimmy’s a good friend. I didn’t want to see this situation get to him.”
“It was quite difficult for him to work with, shall we say, certain parties this week. Having dinner with you was apparently the perfect remedy.”
“I don’t think it was just me that fixed things,” Tony said vaguely.
“Yes, well, Mr. Palmer now knows that I have his six, as you field agents might say. I assure you, she will not be bothering him any longer.”
Tony didn’t know the details, but Jimmy had sent an email to Tony’s personal account that Ducky had been ‘very annoyed’ and had gone straight to Weppler. Between the two supervisors, they’d had a chat with Abby about staying out of McGee’s legal issues, especially when she was at work. That had been Friday, and there was no telling how Abby would be this coming week. Tony hadn’t had any cause to go to forensics all week, but he’d heard that she’d been in a snit because of policy changes. No doubt the conversation with Ducky and Weppler hadn’t helped matters.
“Malik!” Jacy called from the patio door, halting their conversation. “Come in and wash up.”
Malik shook his head and hid in Tony’s shoulder. Tony tried to put him down, but the kid just held on. He tried again, but Malik held on tighter and tried to climb higher like some kind of demented little tree frog.
“Malik Isaiah Jarrett!”
The kid blew out his breath, making a kind of raspberry sound, and quit trying to hold on, allowing Tony to put him down. “Coming, Mama.” The kid trudged off like he was going to his execution. Tony tried not to laugh.
Beth sidled up next to him and nudged his shoulder, obviously amused. Yeah, she knew how he was with kids, but he was trying to get better.
His cell gave the two-pulse vibrate of a text message, so he checked it quickly, finding a message from Ian.
– Back in town early. Dinner? –
Tony didn’t even have to contemplate the answer. He’d spent all week thinking about Ian whenever work permitted. Maybe this was the worst timing ever, or maybe it was too fast, or any number of things that made it a bad idea, but he really didn’t care. He wanted this.
– Yes. 2000? My place? I’ll have plenty of food. –
Jacy had already warned him he was taking leftovers home. He figured she thought she was ensuring he had real dinners this week.
– See you then. –
“Okay, that is a serious smile,” Beth commented.
“I must agree with the lovely lady. I haven’t seen you smile like that in some time, Anthony,” Ducky remarked.
“A friend’s in town. We’re getting together for dinner.”
Beth and Ducky both gave him a knowing look, but neither said anything.
– – – –
As soon as the door was closed, Ian yanked Tony into a kiss which turned heated in a heartbeat. By the time they pulled apart, Tony’s knees felt like goo, his breathing was irregular, and his cock was hard. “Damn,” he muttered.
“I’ve been thinking about you constantly,” Ian said lowly before licking into Tony’s mouth again.
Pulling apart the second time was even harder. Before they could get going again or Tony could just give in to his dick, he grabbed Ian’s hand and hauled him into the kitchen.
“Okay,” he said a little breathlessly, straightening his clothes. “Check out the fridge, let me know what you want, and I’ll heat it up.”
Ian raised a brow but looked in the refrigerator. “Did a potluck explode in here?”
“Former team lead’s going away party was today. My SFA seems to think I need someone to provide me meals. I swear she sent half the leftovers home with me.”
“You make any of it?” Ian asked, poking at a couple bowls.
Ian pulled out the two pieces that were left and handed them to Tony, who found the choice amusing. While it was heating, Tony got them both wine and they sat at the kitchen island.
“How’d the manhunt go?” Tony asked.
“We got him.”
“I didn’t really doubt that outcome.”
Ian smirked a bit but then shrugged. “They’re always tiring, but they’re good. Keeps me sharp.” He gave Tony an assessing look. “You okay?”
Tony snorted. “This case is gonna bury me. But, yeah, I’m fine.”
Ian sipped his wine, then said, “FBI’s gonna be knocking on your door.”
Frowning, Tony stood up straight. “If someone else has framed me for murder, I’m going to lose it.”
“No, but I want to hear that story later. Can’t reveal my source, but there’s pressure to recruit you.”
Tony made a dismissive gesture. “Meh. Bureau’s offered me a job before.”
“I think it’s a little more serious this time. I can’t say more, but… heads up.”
He wondered what was going on but wasn’t going to press Ian for more information either.
They chatted idly, and it was easy. Ian wasn’t as verbose as Tony, but he certainly wasn’t as laconic as Gibbs.
When the food was ready, Ian groaned in pleasure at the first bite. “This is damn good, Tony.”
He just smiled into his own food. After every bit was consumed, Tony set the plates in the sink and propped his hip against the counter.
Ian leaned back in his chair. “If you can cook like that, I’m keeping you.”
“Okay,” Tony remarked impulsively.
“Okay, you can keep me,” he clarified with practiced nonchalance.
Ian stared at him for several long seconds. “You’re serious?”
“Yes.” Maybe Ian expected Tony to insist on dating or something, but Tony wanted this. He also knew Ian was away a lot, and he wanted some rights on the man’s time when he was in town.
Tony found his arm suddenly grabbed and he was hauled toward the bedroom. He gave a soft laugh. “In a hurry?”
In short order, he found himself flat on his back with Ian braced over him. “I can see that you don’t believe how much I’ve thought about you the last few years. I hate regret, Tony, but there’s no other word for how I feel about walking away from you.”
“You knew where I was,” Tony remarked, wondering why Ian had never sought him out before now.
Ian ran his fingers down the side of Tony’s face. “It was easy to pretend… at least until I saw you. Hit me like a ton of bricks.”
“You’re kind of an asshole,” Tony remarked. “But I suppose it’s a good thing I like that about you.”
Ian’s lips quirked up. “I’m a complete dick; ask anyone who knows me.” He pressed a gentle kiss to Tony’s mouth. “But not to you,” he whispered.
Tony pulled Ian down again, slipping his tongue into Ian’s mouth. And, yeah, maybe there was something wrong with him that his idea of romantic was ‘I won’t be a dick to you,’ but it worked, it was what he wanted, and, frankly, he was tired of people being a dick to him. He deserved better.
They pulled apart, clothes were quickly shed, and they came together again in a tangle of naked limbs as Ian’s mouth began teasing the long line of Tony’s throat. Ian adjusted his position, nudging Tony’s legs apart and settling between them, resting his weight on Tony.
Groaning, Tony arched up, feeling their cocks rub together. “God, you feel good.” He thrust up and whatever patience either of them had seemed to vanish.
Ian pulled away and knelt between Tony’s legs, hands trailing down Tony’s body. “Condom? Lube?” Tony jerked his chin toward the nightstand. A moment later, Ian returned his attention to Tony’s body, this time pumping Tony’s cock several times. “Shouldn’t surprise me that you’ve got a pretty cock,” he muttered teasing the head.
Tony twitched and thrust against the tormenting hand. “Fuck! You can write an ode to my dick some other time. Do something!”
Ian gave him a smug grin then fiddled with the lube bottle. A moment later, slippery fingers were tracing Tony’s hole then suddenly pressing in.
“Fuck, yes…” He hadn’t been fucked properly in way too damn long. He braced his feet on the bed and rode Ian’s fingers. His lover was watching him intently as he stroked over Tony’s prostate. “Dammit! Do it again. Come on, Ian… don’t hold back. Fuck!” A third finger joined the first two and nailed his prostate. Tony’s eyes rolled back in his head and he groaned. His cock twitched and precum beaded at the tip.
“Can you come from this?” Ian asked, eyes intense.
“Yes! And if you don’t want me to, you’d better get your dick in me,” Tony ordered
Ian groaned. He ripped the condom packet open with his teeth and got the condom on while still managing to finger fuck Tony into senselessness. He pulled his hand away, getting a growl from Tony, and slathered his cock with lube. “You want to flip over?”
“Fuck, no,” Tony retorted sharply. At Ian’s look of concern, Tony replied, “I know you’ve got a big dick. I’m totally down for this. I don’t need to get in the optimal position. Seriously… fuck me.” Tony’s legs were shoved up and he readily cooperated, one leg going around Ian’s waist and the other braced on the crook of Ian’s elbow.
The blunt pressure at his hole had him arching up, trying to encourage Ian to get going. When the thick cock started to slide into him, Tony’s back bowed and his eyes slammed shut. There was a little pain but he totally didn’t care about that. The sensation of stretching and fullness was so damn good. “God, that’s perfect,” he groaned.
When Ian was all the way inside, he dropped his head to Tony’s shoulder. “Fuck…” He bit Tony’s throat as he started to move.
Tony wasn’t even really aware of what his hands had been up to, just that they were on Ian. But he shifted them to Ian’s tight ass and grabbed on, encouraging him to move. Faster. Harder. He met Ian thrust for thrust and knew Ian was watching him closely. And the more Ian watched, the hotter Tony found it. His body was on fire, and when Ian nailed his prostate perfectly, he knew this was about to be over.
“You can really come on just my cock,” Ian said breathlessly.
“Yes… god, fuck, yes… soon… harder…” Tony managed inarticulately.
Ian kissed him again, tongue fucking him with the same aggression with which he was now pounding Tony’s ass. And that was all it took. Tony shook apart, clutching at Ian’s back and sucking hard on his tongue. When Tony was completely fucked out, he was aware of Ian being perfectly still, braced over him, watching intently.
“You are so damn beautiful,” Ian murmured.
Tony managed an inarticulate mumble, feeling utterly boneless, the post-orgasm tingles still zipping all along his nerve endings.
“Do you need me to stop?”
And damn the man for making him think. Tony wiggled free the leg held up by Ian’s arm, then tightly wrapped both legs around Ian’s waist, pulling his lover’s weight more firmly onto his body. “No. Love this. Move.”
So Ian did. “How could you be so fucking perfect for me?”
Tony trembled and held on, only managing another inarticulate response as Ian began to ride him hard. It didn’t take long for Ian to find his peak, and Tony’s whole body was racked with tremors from the acute sensations he desperately loved. And damn if he wasn’t ready to embrace his inner size queen. Because. Holy. Fuck.
He let his legs fall to the bed and whimpered when Ian pulled out. Somehow they got cleaned up and under the covers, easily falling into a position wrapped around each other.
Ian chuckled. “For someone relatively talkative and then bossy as hell during sex, you sure are quiet now.”
Tony grumbled. “Shut up. Fucked stupid.”
Ian really started laughing at that, and it made Tony smile. He held on a little tighter, feeling like he’d found his center, the thing he wanted for his life. Sleep came easily.
When he woke a couple hours later, they’d shifted position a bit, but Ian was still there. Something in Tony relaxed. He thought again about the last couple weeks and all the sudden changes, about finding himself both at work and now, hopefully, in his personal life as well.
Strong fingers began carding through Tony’s hair. “What are you thinking about?” Ian whispered.
Smiling, he pressed a kiss to Ian’s shoulder and murmured, “That sometimes starting over is a really good thing.”
– – – –